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Family Income and Poverty (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Income and health are intricately linked. Poverty can alter children’s developmental trajectories in cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical health (1). The effects of poverty on child health can begin during pregnancy, as low-income women are more likely to experience risk factors such as malnutrition and stress, and are less likely to receive prenatal care (2). Children who face economic hardship when they are young, or who experience extreme and prolonged hardship, are at greatest risk for poor outcomes (1). The effects of poverty and the stress associated with it can be long-term, contributing to increased risks of dropping out of school, poor adult health, and poor employment outcomes, among other adverse consequences (1, 3, 4). The impacts extend beyond individuals, too. For example, it is estimated that one percentage point increase in child poverty could cost the economy an extra $28 billion annually in the future, due in part to lower future earnings among those who grow up in poverty (5).

The link between income and well being is evident even for those living above the poverty level. That is, research has shown a health gradient along the economic spectrum so that health status improves as income levels increase, e.g., the health of those in the middle-income range tends to be inferior to those in higher-income groups (3).
Rates of poverty tend to be highest among children in single-parent families, those under 5 years old, and African American/black, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native children (4, 5, 6).

For more information on Family Income and Poverty, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Evans, G. W., & Kim, P. (2013). Childhood poverty, chronic stress, self-regulation, and coping. Child Development Perspectives, 7(1), 43-48. Retrieved from:

2.  Hamad, R., & Rehkopf, D. H. (2015). Poverty, pregnancy, and birth outcomes: A study of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 29(5), 444-452. Retrieved from:

3.  Aron, L., et al. (2015). Can income-related policies improve population health? Urban Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health. Retrieved from:

4.  Child Trends Databank. (2015). Children in poverty. Retrieved from:

5.  Nichols, A. (2013). Explaining changes in child poverty over the past four decades (Low-Income Working Families Discussion Paper No. 2). Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

6.  As cited on, Children in poverty (regions of 65,000 residents or more), by race/ethnicity. (2015). U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
Family poverty has multiple causes and dimensions, many of which public policy can address. Maintaining a public safety net for children whose parents do not have the resources to provide adequate food, clothing, health care, and shelter can mitigate some of the effects of poverty (1). Other strategies, such as tax credits and parental work support, also have the potential to help lift families out of poverty. Preventing a child from growing up in poverty requires a broad policy strategy targeting diverse root causes. While California has made strides in recent years, additional effort is needed to ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive (1, 2).

Policies that could influence family income and poverty include:
  • Restoring and maintaining CalWORKs/Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance and work support to families, so that benefits support an adequate living standard and families receive the assistance necessary to transition from welfare to work (1, 2)
  • Ensuring that eligible families enroll in safety net programs—such as CalFresh (Food Stamps) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—through outreach and elimination of administrative barriers (2, 3)
  • Maintaining and strengthening state tax policies aimed at reducing poverty among working families, such as the state Earned Income Tax Credit (1)
  • Ensuring comprehensive and consistent benefits across public and private health insurance carriers, so all families can access high-quality, affordable care; this may include increasing Medi-Cal provider rates, reducing administrative burden on providers, and developing a tool to regularly monitor children’s access to quality care in Medi-Cal (4)
  • Increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care in a variety of settings for all young children, especially low-income children, by capitalizing on the expansion of federal and state subsidies for early childhood programs and ensuring that eligible children receive subsidies (1, 4)
  • Continuing to strengthen child support enforcement programs that work effectively with non-custodial parents and ensure that support reaches the families that need it (5)
For more policy ideas and information on this topic see’s Research & Links section or visit the Urban Institute, California Budget & Policy Center, Center for Law and Social Policy, or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Also see Policy Implications on under Unemployment, Housing Affordability, and Homelessness.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Danielson, C. (2016). California's future: Social safety net. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

2.  Schumacher, K. (2015). Even CalWORKs and CalFresh food assistance combined fails to lift families out of poverty. California Budget & Policy Center. Retrieved from:

3.  California Department of Public Health, Center for Family Health. (2016). Making connections: Understanding women’s reasons for not enrolling in WIC during pregnancy, California 2010-2012. Retrieved from:

4.  Children Now. (2016). 2016 California children's report card: A survey of kids’ well-being and a roadmap for the future. Retrieved from:

5.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families. (2016). Office of Child Support Enforcement Annual Report to Congress FY 2014. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2014, an estimated 23% of California children lived below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) of $24,008 annually for a family of four, up from 17% in 2007. A child's likelihood of living in poverty varies by race/ethnicity and family structure. For example, statewide estimates show that 37% of African American/black children, 31% of Hispanic/Latino children, and 29% of American Indian/Alaska Native children lived below the FPL in 2014, compared to 16% of multiracial children and 11% of white and Asian American children. In addition, 39% of California children in single-parent households lived below the FPL in 2014, compared to 14% of children living with two parents.

In California, the median family income was $71,015 in 2014, and ranged at the county level from $44,616 to $127,470. In all but seven counties with data, estimates of median income were lower for families with children than for families without children in 2014.
As an alternative to the Federal Poverty Level, the Census Bureau has created the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which uses a different poverty threshold based on expenses for food, shelter, clothing and utilities; it also is adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing. According to the SPM, about 25% of California children lived in poverty in 2014, compared to 17% nationwide. Among racial/ethnic groups with data, 36% of Hispanic/Latino children lived in poverty in California, compared to 12% of white children, 15% of multiracial children, and 17% of Asian/Pacific Islander children, according to 2013-2014 SPM estimates.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS), another measure on, represents the estimated amount of money a family needs to adequately meet its basic needs. In 2014, the average SSSs for the six most common family types in California ranged from $43,354 to $63,979. Statewide in 2012, about half (51%) of families of all household types lived below the SSS.

CalWORKs is a welfare program that provides cash aid and services to eligible needy families in California. In 2015, almost 1.3 million individuals in California (3.3% of the total population) participated in CalWORKs. According to a California Budget and Policy Center report, nearly four in five (79%) CalWORKs participants are children.

An estimated 17% of California children lived in areas of concentrated poverty, where 30% or more of the population lives below the FPL, according to 2010-2014 data.